Friday 14 October 2011

Short of match fitness

Fit and Proper People, Soho Theatre, London

Damn. Just when you think Soho Theatre’s back on track, they take their eye of the ball with Georgia Fitch’s football expose, Fit and Proper People. The play’s packaging is unquestionably slick. The theatre has been transformed into a tiny football pitch, with a sparkling turf laid down and advertising screens flanking the field. Even the PR team has got in on the act, referring to the interval as half-time and flagging up free pies. But packaging isn’t everything and the actual substance is as disappointing as the half-time snacks – a bit bland and deeply unsatisfying

Sport, and football in particular, is becoming a holy-grail for theatre makers. It’s been repeatedly observed that the two have heaps in common; the ritual, the rules, the crowd interaction, the emotional highs and lows. Damn, even the ticket prices. It seems the two are a match made in heaven and yet, time and again, they play poorly together.

Fitch has certainly done her research and there’s enough material here for a multitude of good plays. We could have had a taut piece about an agent’s screwed up relationship with a rampantly misogynistic but still respected coach. We could’ve looked at the impact of foreign transfers on young lads, often plucked from obscurity, taken half way across the globe and swiftly dropped again. The play might have simply focused on the randy coach’s wife, who seems to attempt suicide with every home game. All these plot-lines could have made compelling shows, offering a sideways but revealing glance at the beautiful game.

Instead, we get all these plays in one ‘super’ play and, christ, what a mess they become. There are so many plot-lines jostling for position, the play and players become impossible to follow. At one point, I was reduced to scrawling down in bewilderment: who are these people and what are they talking about? It was a question that nagged for the full 90 minutes.

Katy Stephens works hard to hold the scattered script together, carving out her lines and desperately trying to inject her scenes with urgent emotion. Stephens plays agent Casey Layton, who has recently returned to her home club with the aim of boosting them back into the Premier League. Her character, despite RSC actor Stephen’s best efforts, is bafflingly mercurial. Some scenes portray her as mother to her players, soothing pyjama clad players with late night stories. Sometimes, she’s the victim, such as when she splays out on the field and recalls a hideous gang-raping incident. Other times, she’s horribly manipulative and clinical to the point of cruelty.

Perhaps in a stronger play these character quirks would’ve been called complexities. Here, they’re indicative of a convoluted and over-stretched play. Agent Casey is a weak character because she has no real story – she is simply following up a multitude of lost plot-threads. The strange decision to share most sentences, with one actor completing another’s thoughts, only makes matters worse. What was initially a fractured piece becomes downright frustrating.

Marmion tries to spice things up with some flashy directorial touches: the pitch rises up to reveal beds, tables and chairs and video footage is used extensively, and inventively, throughout. But these over-embellishments give the game away and suggest a director desperate to add panache to a faltering play, which is a long way off the Premier League. 

Till 5 November 2011


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